Despite all efforts to maintain the cleanliness of their newborn, many new mothers are horrified to discover that their newborn has a flaky scalp. Flaky scalps, also known as "cradle cap," is highly common among newborns and babies. It can occur in any baby, and tends to develop within the first three months.
Flaky scalps usually occur as a result of the rapid development of skin cells and the baby's inability to adequately flake off excess skin. Doctors are not certain what causes the hyperactivation of the skin's sebaceous glands in a baby, but it is thought to be the result of the mother's hormones crossing through the placenta preceding birth. Cradle cap is harmless to your baby and usually disappears between six and 12 months of age. It is not contagious nor is it a result of poor hygiene or allergies.
Scalp flakes in babies usually have the appearance of dandruff, or the scalp can have oily, thick, yellow or brown crusting or scaling patches. In addition to flakes and scaling, the scalp may also appear red and irritated. More severe cases of flaky scalps may result in a scalp that is greasy, cracked and have the appearance of "weeping." The condition is not harmful to babies, but it can cause itching.
For stubborn, flaky scalps, try gently rubbing natural almond or olive oil on your baby's scalp. Allow the oil to penetrate the scalp for 15 minutes then comb off the flakes with a soft brush or fine-tooth comb. After the oil treatment, gently wash your baby's scalp and hair with a mild baby shampoo to remove excess oil, which can clog pores and cause any flaking to stick.
Severe scalp flaking that spreads beyond your baby's scalp should be treated by your pediatrician. For severe scalp-flaking problems, your baby may be prescribed a cortisone cream for inflammation and/or a seborrhea shampoo for flaking.
Flaky skin can also occur around your baby's eyebrows, ears, armpits and other creases in the skin. When this condition occurs it is not termed cradle cap but seborrheic dermatitis. Similar to cradle cap, seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious and usually resolves itself within the first year.
If you use seborrhea shampoo to treat your baby's flaky scalp, use extreme caution when using it as the shampoo is incredibly harsh and will hurt your baby's eyes. Avoid overwashing your baby's scalp, as this may cause painful irritation to the scalp and overstimulate oil glands in the scalp, resulting in further flake and dry skin buildup.